Special Report: Spot/Local TV

Call him the ambassador of local television. As head of PHD’s Local Media Network, Patrick McNew manages one of the most, if not the most, significant budgets in all of spot television investment: $1.5 billion for some of the nation’s largest advertisers, including Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge, Mercedes-Benz USA, Safeway, Mitsubishi, Bank of America, Cricket Wireless and Discovery Network.

In 2006, the Local Media Network negotiated, bought and stewarded more than 18,000 media buys and 7.5 million broadcast units across all 210 markets. That in itself would be daunting for any media seller sitting on the other side of McNew’s desk.

But McNew isn’t interested in just raw clout. An executive with a track record that runs in excess of 30 years on both sides of the negotiating table, McNew sees himself as nothing less than a champion of local TV.

“Pat is a pro. He appreciates and loves the business. He has this great balance of historical perspective and this thirst for new ideas. He’s old, but he’s certainly not a dinosaur,” says Dave Rooney, director of brand marketing for Chrysler, a client McNew has worked with for more than 15 years.

“I believe in the power of localism,” McNew says. “We want to use our clout to leverage ideas in each market. People make the assumption that local is just like a network, multiplied by 210 [markets]. Every market in the U.S. is unique. Everybody in media planning and buying should get in a car in New York City and drive to Redondo Beach, Calif. The person who takes that journey will never look at our cherished country in the same old way.”

What McNew preaches may be a simple concept—and one that every buyer of local media, at the end of the day, agrees with. But that doesn’t mean it’s always practiced, or easy to execute.

“Because of the nature of selling and buying electronic media, we try to find the lowest common denominator. But Pat stands up and says, ‘No. Your job is to point out the uniqueness, the differences. Your job is to find out how Lima, Ohio, is not New Orleans,'” explains Bob Bee, director of sales for WTAE-TV, Hearst-Argyle’s ABC affiliate in Pittsburgh. “You can’t homogenize if you want to make the cash register ring.”

For McNew, local TV was his one and only career choice. He grew up with the medium, watching his father anchor local newscasts on WXYZ-TV in Detroit.

So, it’s no surprise that McNew’s first job was also in local TV—he became an ad salesman at WDIV in Detroit. From there, he joined the rep business, working for both Katz Television and Petry Television.

McNew then served a short stint at CBS Cable before landing at BBDO in 2000, where he ran the agency’s local buying operation. That evolved into Local Media Network, the single largest buying group at PHD, with a staff of greater than 150.

McNew is known not only for his local market expertise but also for his attitude, distinguished by his trademark sense of humor, his aphorisms about local TV—and his always-open-door policy.

“The selling background makes him different. He gets the importance of the interaction and presentation,” says Chris Rohrs, president of the Television Bureau of Advertising. McNew sold for Rohrs when he was at WDIV, and McNew became Rohr’s customer when he went to PHD.

“There are bumper stickers that say, ‘Honk if you visited Pat McNew,'” McNew says, with a laugh. “I’ll see anyone. It’s up to us to get information out of them. We have to be good listeners.”

There’s an antique sign in McNew’s office in Detroit: “Salesmen welcome.”

“That’s heartening for someone like me,” says Jeff Smith, vp, group sales manager at Eagle Television Sales, a division of Katz Media.

Smith worked for McNew early in his career. “One of the things I learned from him is something he always said to me: ‘What would you do if the ball was hit to you?'” says Smith. “The lesson there is always be thinking ahead, always be prepared. Have a Plan B.”

Clients have grown to depend on McNew’s unmatched expertise and instinctual feel for how to reach consumers in local markets.

“Spot TV is a very important strategy for us,” says Janice Englishmen, media supervisor in the marketing services division of Mercedes-Benz USA, which earns 75 percent of its sales from 20 markets.

“We’re very selective, yet Pat has a great feel for the brand and what our target audience’s key interests are,” Englishmen adds. “He’s able to negotiate good rates for Mercedes despite the strict guidelines we provide.”

“Pat understands that it’s not our job to buy media but sell cars and educate people about our products,” adds Chrysler’s Rooney. “He’s strategic as well as tactical.”

For his clients, McNew put together a monthly newsletter that profiles, by market, conditions and pricing nuances across all media (New early-news anchor? New late newscast? Radio station format change?), economic and retail changes (New department store in town?) and other pertinent intelligence. Called Market Pulse, the 75-page newsletter provides as much detail for Helena, Mont., and Colorado Springs, Colo., as Boston and Detroit.

“There are no small buys,” McNew explains. “Cars aren’t sold nationally, they’re sold locally.”

“The work that his group accomplishes and the way they approach local markets, it’s a true competitive advantage for PHD,” says John Swift, the agency’s exec vp, managing partner of activation. “He’s more than a buyer. His knowledge of the auto business helps inform all our teams here.”